Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: Sacred Hearts

A well-researched piece of historical fiction. Unless you are cold stone hearted dead, this work will definitely have an emotional impact.I’m not sure how men will receive it, but most 21st century women will finish the book, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and send prayers or thoughts to whatever supreme deity is in their lives with thanks that they did not have to live through anything like this. The story line is fairly straightforward: In 16th century Italy, the bride price (or dowry) for women had gotten so high that families could only afford to marry off one daughter. The rest were consigned to convents –along with whatever endowment the family could give to the abbess to take care of the unfortunate girl for the rest of her life. The life was one of almost complete silence, little if any contact with relatives on "the outside" (all letters were read by a censor before the recipient was perhaps allowed to receive it), plain food, lots of fasting, and life regulated in every aspect by the observance of the liturgical hours (starting at 2:00am with Martins).

Some women welcomed this life—especially if the alternative was to marry some man not to her liking—others were literally dragged (drugged?) into the convents totally against their wills. Sacred Hearts is the story of Isabetta, a young girl who wanted to marry her music teacher, but who was instead dispatched to the convent of Santa Catarina. The Abbess is keen to have her since she reputedly has an angelic voice, and the convent choir’s performances for the towns people and the surrounding countryside bring much needed patronage and money for the Abbey.

Once inside, we meet the stern, uber rule enforcing novice mistress, Umiliana; the wise, crafty, and holy abbess Madonna Chiara; the dispensary mistress Zuana, and several anorexic (in those days they were called holy mystics) ancient dying sisters fasting and waiting to meet Christ.

Isabetta, renamed Serafina, immediately sets the convent on end by such loud screaming her first night that Chiara sends Zuana to calm her down.Zuana herself had come to the convent reluctantly 16 years priorThe daughter of a prominent widowed doctor, who taught her everything he know about medicine and herbs, she was not considered marriage material (no man would want a woman so smart!) and with no large dowry or estate, she was sent to the abbey to live. Seeing much of herself in the young novice, Zuana befriends Serafina, (having to drug her first to calm her down) and convinces the abbess to assign Serafina to work in the herb garden and dispensary with her.

At this point, the plot twists begin. The book is to be published next week, and I urge you to get a copy. This is a superbly written story of young love, betrayal, mistreatment of women, women bonding with other women, and the horrible, horrible treatment of women by the Italian society of the day. While it is the story of the helplessness of women on the one hand, I must point out (with as little spoiler as possible) that it is also the story of the courageousness, talent, and cunning of women who solve problems themselves.

Many thanks to Random House for making the review copy available.

It would make a wonderful book discussion group read.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's

Here's the Amazon description:
The Constitution was two years old and the United States was in serious danger. Bitter political rivalry between former allies and two surging issues that inflamed the nation led to grim talk of breaking up the union. Then a single great evening achieved compromises that led to America's great expansion. This book celebrates Thomas Jefferson and his two guests, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, and the meal that saved the republic. In Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's, you'll discover the little-known story behind this pivotal evening in American history, complete with wine lists, recipes, and more.
I was frankly disappointed in this book...very little about the dinner when Jefferson was Secretary of State for Washington...lots of politics, lots of conjecture on the part of the author, references to more well known and respected authors such as David McCullough, but if you're looking for a book about dinner, and wine and recipes, this isn't it. It does give an easy to understand description of some of the struggles Washington went through with his cabinet; the "two surging issues" referred to in the book blurb were the formation of a National Bank, and the designation of Washington D.C. as the nation's capital; it discusses Jefferson' differences with Hamilton; it paints Hamilton as a brilliant politician well loved by Washington; it drops in glimpses of Madison, and Henry Knox, but if it's history you're after, this isn't it either. If you have limited reading time, this wouldn't be a book I'd recommend spending it reading.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rainy Sunday brings another Award!

Donura of Donura Reads just blew me away by presenting this blog with the Literary Blogger Award.
The Literary Blogger Award acknowledges bloggers who energize & inspire reading by going the extra mile. These amazing bloggers make reading fun & enhance the delight of reading!!
What I like most about receiving these nominations is that now I can bestow them on other bloggers. Both with this and the True Fairy Tale award, I'm going to wait a few days and look around before choosing my nominees. Once again thanks to all Tutu's faithful readers, and welcome to new ones. I hope you will continue to find dreamy reading, musings and other wish fulfillment here well blended with literary excellence. (blushing at previous typos now corrected) I'm having fun and I hope you are too.

Dreams Come True in Books and Fairy Tales

Wow is my granddaughter going to be impressed! I'm just humbled, and tickled. Gwendolyn, over at A Sea of Books has bestowed the True Fairy Tale Award on this blog. I think we always get puffed up when someone recognizes the work we do, and in this case I found it fascinating that she has caught on to the fact that I'm a daydream believer. I may not ride a pumpkin, but I do believe that we can all find our dreams in good reading, and sharing those books with friends and families. Thanks Gwendolyn for touching me with your magic wand!

Multi-tasking on Sundays

It's Sunday, and that means baseball, needlecraft and books. We go to church on Saturday evenings, so Sunday is my one totally free day. Many times friends say "I saw your blog--I don't understand how you can read more than one book at a time!" I respond by explaining that
  • At least one book in my currently reading is always an audio book. I listen in the car (I have an hour round trip to the pool everyday to work out)--this week it's Dinner at Mr Jefferson's. This one hopefully will get finished today.
  • One is usually a non-fiction work that requires some time and thought--today that's American Lion, the biography of Andrew Jackson, by Jon Meacham. Very good, a Pulitzer, and emminently readable for such a meaty subject.
  • One is usually something else that can be done in short bursts, such as poetry, or short stories, or books written as Letters. Today it's The Food of Portugal, a cook book I'm leisurely going through for my "Things Portuguese" category in the 999 read on LT.
  • The last is a novel or some fictional work. Today it's Sacred Hearts which I got as an Advanced Reading copy. (The Jackson bio is also an Early Review copy from LT).
On Sundays, I usually read the 'heavy' book in the morning or finish up one that I'm within 50 pages of completing (in this case the cookbook). Then in the afternoons, while the REDSOX are playing, I settle down with my cross-stitch in front of the TV, put the MP3 player in my pocket, plug in the earphones and listen, watch and sew. I don't need the bloviating play by play of the announcers to see what's going on, and I'm at a point in my sewing where not much counting is needed, so I can easily keep three balls in the air. On this particular Sunday, I'm really happy the SOX are out of town, because here in New England our weather has me googling to find out how to build an ARK! (and trying to figure how I'd explain to our mother turkey who comes to feed everyday why she'd only be allowed to take two of her 9 babies!) I think as long as the books you are reading are not too similar --I try not to read 2 biographies set in the same period, or two mysteries, or two books of poetry at the same time-- it's an easy and relaxing hobby. It keeps the brain sharp, and means, no matter what room I'm in, there's an adventure in words waiting for me. Off to enjoy my Sunday. Enjoy yours too!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Contest: Celebrate Summer and the Bard!

Thanks to the nice folks at Hachette I have 5 copies each of two different books to giveaway. The first- My Name is Will by Jess Winfield- is due out in July. The other- Off Season by Ann Rivers Siddon- is a paperback re-issue so if you missed it last year, now's your chance. The rules are simple, and I'll draw the names on July 15. Think you're interested? Here's the blurb from Hachette on Will: (I haven't read it yet myself, but will post a review as soon as I get my review copy):
A Tale of two Shakespeares... Struggling UC Santa Cruz grad student Willie Shakespeare Greenberg is trying to write his thesis about the Bard. Kind of... Cut off by his father for laziness, and desperate for dough, Willie agrees to deliver a single giant, psychedelic mushroom to a mysterious collector, making himself an unwitting target in Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs. Meanwhile, would-be playwright (and oppressed Catholic) William Shakespeare is eighteen years old and stuck teaching Latin in the boondocks of Stratford-upon-Avon. The future Bard's life is turned upside down when a stranger entrusts him with a sacred relic from Rome... This, at a time when adherents of the "Old Faith" are being hanged, drawn, and quartered as traitors. Seemingly separated in time and place, the lives of Willie and William begin to intersect in curious ways, from harrowing encounters with the law (and a few ex-girlfriends) to dubious experiments with mind-altering substances. Their misadventures could be dismissed as youthful folly. But wise or foolish, the bold choices they make will shape not only the 'Shakespeare' each is destined to come... but the very course of history itself.
I read Off Season last year, and found it different from earlier Siddons books, but the Maine and DC settings are both familiar and therefore attractive to me, and the plot twists and turns were quite breathtaking. Even the ending was different from what I've come to expect from Siddons. If you're a fan of lost love, Maine beaches, and introspective, thought-provoking prose, you'll love this one. So...........how to win. Here are the rules: For each book you want to win, leave a separate comment below. and tell me which book you want to win in each entry. Please make sure to leave your e-mail address if not visible in your blogger profile. (if you're worried about spam, you can leave the address as yourname (at)whatever (dot)com.) You don't have to have a blog to enter, but I have to have a way to get in touch with you off post. For extra entries, you can do one or all of the following - please leave a separate comment for each:
  • Follow my blog (see "Followers" in the left sidebar) or tell me if you're already a follower.
  • Subscribe to my feed (see subscribe button at the bottom);
  • Blog about this giveaway(sidebars OK) linking to this post and send me a link to your post.
The deadline to enter is July 17, 2009, 11:59pm EST. I'll select the five winners for each randomly and notify you by email. If you don't acknowledge within 72 hours, I'll draw another winner. Sorry, but this is open only to residents of U.S. or Canada. No P.O. box addresses, please. One book per person. Winners will receive their prizes directly from Hachette Book Group. Good luck!

Friday Favorites from the past: Chesapeake

Time for another Favorite Reads the meme started by Alyce at At Home with Books. We decided this week to take advantage of good health and slashed prices and signed up to take a cruise through the Mediterranean in late August. As I was browsing through my travel bookshelf, I came upon a collection by James Michener, who was always a favorite. We own over 20 of his books, a mere sip of the 133 he wrote in his lifetime. I think my favorite is Chesapeake. I grew up on the Bay, and found this a fascinating historical and environmental study of one of the most important water resources in the nation. (Can you say crab? shrimp? oysters, bluefish?) Going back to the time of native Americans living on the islands and near the marshes, he then traces the various colonies formed in the Tidewater and proceeds through the years up to 1976. As with everything Michener does, it is well researched, and historically factual. He uses the technique of introducing fictional families in a time period and then following them and their descendants through the years. It's been eons since I read the book, but I still remember the impact it had on me learning about what we now call an eco-system, and the various ethnic groups that contributed to the richness of my home state, Maryland. I wish he'd written one about Maine. I suspect it would still be a good read and have put it on my "let's read it again" pile. I highly recommend his work...there is a timelessness about it, and a richness that makes learning history not only easy, but enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: Cemetery Dance

As you know, I'm not usually a fan of books featuring horror, zombies, cults, or voodoo, but this was an audio ARC I received from Hachette, and I went into it with an open mind. This was also the first book I'd read by this duo. It was an enjoyable story and the reading by Rene Auberjonois was fantastic. Each chapter was like a mini-story, each character was interesting, sometimes annoying, but always intriguing. You knew bad things were going to happen, but you were never quite sure what, or who was going to be involved. Warning: there are SOME SPOILERS here.

I assume from the book jacket that the two main characters, as well as the first victim, have been around for previous volumes in the series. Detective D'Agosta's rough edges were the perfect foil for Special Agent Prendergast's refined manner. I did find myself wondering how these two got together and what the history was (what FBI agent can afford a chaffeured Rolls Royce?), so I would not recommend this book without reading others in the series first. I especially liked Prendergast's language: his sentences and vocabulary were luxurious without being pompous.

The story concerns a murder where eye-witnesses swear the killer was someone who was already dead and buried. Later the first victim is seen to be the murderer of another woman …again committed in front of a room full of witnesses.

Add a cult of celibates who practice animal sacrifice living on an abandoned estate in the middle of a park in New York City. Add an obnoxious art collector/business man who uses his money and his lawyers to thumb his nose at authority.

There's the bumbling police commander (why do all these detective books these days show the top guys as less than competent?), and some other characters who obviously played some important part in Prendergast's past but we're left wondering what that past was.

I found the women in the story rather underwritten. On the one hand, there's Laura Hayward, a police Captain who doesn't seem to have anything to do but play the love interest for D'Agosta, until she does a 'wonder-woman' to try to rescue him. Then there's Nora Kelley, wife of the first victim in the story, who tries to stay out of the way, but who manages to become entangled. I really didn't like her too much from the first. Why would any woman leave her apartment in New York at midnite after a lovely 1st anniversary dinner to go pick up a cake at the bakery????? She couldn't have picked it up on her way home from work???? Or had it delivered???? And then it really stretched my imagination that as an archaeological expert who works with pottery shards, she knew how to set up and run a DNA analyzer.

In spite of my questions about the characters, the plot kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole book. Even at the end, I was left wondering "what next?" I certainly will look for past and future books in this series, if for no other reason than to get some more perspective on the main characters.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat - a sorta review

This is a wonderfully readable book about a cat, a library, a small-town, a single parent, a rebellious (thought not too) teenager, Iowa, and love. Librarian Vicki Myron, who finds a kitten half-frozen in the library book return one January morning in Iowa, manages to weave her personal story (including divorce, cancer, parenting issues, and job) into the story of the library, and the small town, without becoming totally maudlin. The stories would not have hung together, or been anything close to interesting, without the glue of Dewey Readmore Books...the cat on the cover. There are enough 'warm fuzzies' in this book to melt almost anyone.

Not now.....maybe later

Cutting for Stone is just not my cup of tea. It received great reviews, but I found the book ponderous, over-written, and just not to my liking. I have too many books I want to read to spend anymore time. I've taken over two weeks trying to read this one, and gave it 150 pages, but I just couldn't get interested. The story is supposed to be a love story and I kept waiting for it. It is about twins boys born to an Indian nun and British doctor who worked in Ethopia. The nun dies in childbirth, the father leaves town, and two other doctors take up raising the children. One of the things I found disconcerting was the constant change of voice--at times we are hearing from Marion, the oldest twin, at other times, third person voices are telling the story from the point of view of the two doctors raising the boys. It's gory, lots of medical detail, and lots of interesting cultural information about an area of the world I knew little about. But it was just....too.....much of everything. I have put it aside, and will try later this year to finish it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Story Hour

Last week, the 2nd graders from our small town school took a walk down the street to visit their local public library. The teacher indicated that they had been studying fairy tales all year, and asked that we read a fairy tale to them. After I read them The Irish Cinderlad, the teacher then asked them to discuss the schema of the story and compare it to other stories they had heard during the year. I was impressed! These kids were able to pick out themes, compare significant characters, and point out similarities between such tales as Puss N Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk, and St George slaying the dragon, not to mention Cinderella among others. This is a great story-- a gender twist on the traditional Cinderella. Jack the hero, has big feet, a mean step-mother, three mean ugly step-sisters, and a friendly bull instead of a fairy godmother. He manages to disarm a giant (and get his boots), slay a dragon, rescue a princess and save the town. In the process, he loses one of his boots, causing the princess to institute a kingdom wide search for the owner of the footwear. Sound familiar? It was a great story, a fun afternoon, and a rewarding sight to see our tax dollars raising a group of kids who were capable of reading and interpreting real literature. I look forward to seeing them in the library all summer.

Review: Lobster Chronicles

My second time around for this one--our online Maine reading group is going to discuss this one. It's a well-written true story of what is involved in lobstering and living on a small island. Linda Greenlaw was a deep sea fisherman. She is the woman sea captain in the movie "The Perfect Storm." In her late 30's, she decides to give up fishing, return to her home on Isle Au Haute Maine and take up lobstering. With her father as her sternman, she takes us through an entire year's cycle of painting buoys, cleaning traps, launching boats, laying traps, and then harvesting (or hoping to harvest) lobsters. It's the story of folks who live without a resident doctor, without a movie theater, or big modern grocery store, whose mail comes by boat. The relationship of the townspeople with summer people provides some amusing anecdotes, while the story of local lobsterman protecting their fishing grounds against outsiders gives us a true picture of the uncertainties of making a living from the sea. It's extemely readable and presents a charming but realistic story of this difficult way of life.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Friday Favorites from the Past: Confederacy of Dunces

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
Jonathan Swift-- "Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting"
Building on the Favorite Reads theme on Alyce's blog: At Home with Books, this week's reverie is about what is probably one of my all-time favorites: Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. A posthumous Pulitzer winner featuring Ignatius Reilly and a wonderfully ditzy cast of characters, this story could only have been set in New Orleans. I love this book for so many reasons: the story, the characters, the setting, the richness of the text. Whenever I read it, I rejoice in the memory of one of my best friends, dead now almost 10 years. She lived across the street from me in Virginia, when I was a stay-at-home Mom with a very active 2 year old. She came over one day and invited me to join her in a book discussion group at the local library. I had recently finished library school, and found myself really wanting an adult book experience. We found a sitter, and every week went off to discuss Ignatius Reilly and his billious tummie, and laugh until we cried. I just took it off the shelf again and must quote from Walter Percy's wonderful foreword:
Here..is Ignatius Reilly, without progenitor in any literature I know of--slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one--who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age, lying in his flannel nightshirt, in a back bedroom ....between gigantic seizures of flatulence and eructations, is filling dozens of Big Chief tablets with invective. His mother thinks he needs a job..his girlfriend, Myrna Minkoff, of the Bronx, thinks he needs sex... I hesitate to use the word comedy--though comedy it is-because that implies simply a funny book..this is far more..a great rumbling farce of Falstaffian dimensions would better describe it;
Percy concludes, as the reader will, that this book is a tragedy also. The tragedy is that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide at the age of 32. This is the only work we have of this marvelously talented author. If you never read another Pulitzer, read this one. I know I have read it at least 5 times in the past 20 years, and it never ceases to satisfy me.

Progress report: ARCs

When we first moved to the woods of Maine, our house wasn't even on Google maps. Now the UPS man has found our house so often these past two weeks that he doesn't have to look us up anymore. The ARCs are piling up, so I need to buckle down and read instead of spending so much time blogging. In addition to Andrew Jackson, (see earlier post), here's what's sitting on my TBR table awaiting review:
  • Sacred Hearts Random House, pub date: July 14, 2009, 304 pgs
From Sarah Dunant, acclaimed author of the Birth of Venus and In the Company of Courtesans, comes an engrossing new novel set in a convent in Renaissance Italy where a defiant sixteen-year-old girl has just been confined against her will--for life.
I can't wait to read this...it's next up after I finish three current reads: Dewey (for the 999 challenge Libraries category) , Lobster Chronicles (for 999- read again category), and Tall Tales (for 999-short stories).
  • Evolution of God by Robert Wright; Little, Brown, pub date: Jun 8, 2009, 576 pgs
The New York Times Book Review calls it " A feast of great thinking and writing about the most profound issues there are...fiercely intelligent, beautifully written, and engrossingly original."
I've had Karen Armstrong's History of God on my TBR pile (in fact I've started it twice) so I think I'll give this one a go and see how they compare. It's definitely going to take a few weeks to read it. So look for a review later this summer.
  • Cemetery Dance, an Hachette Audio book by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, and read by Rene Auberjonois--13 hrs of listening.
Publisher's Weekly says: "Bestsellers Preston and Child kill off a regular supporting character at the outset of this suspenseful tale of urban terror, their ninth to feature FBI special agent Aloysius Pendergast (after The Wheel of Darkness). William Smithback, a New York Times reporter, and his wife, Nora Kelly, an anthropologist with the New York Museum of Natural History, are celebrating their first anniversary when Smithback is fatally stabbed in their Manhattan apartment, apparently by a creepy neighbor, Colin Fearing, an out-of-work British actor."
I haven't read the previous books, but this sounds like one I can't wait to listen to. As soon as I finish Cutting with Stone, this is next on the audio list.
  • The Night Gardener by George Pelecano; a Back Bay books reprint hot off the presses, 400 pgs.
From Amazon: "The haunting story of three cops:one good, one bad, one broken, and the murder that reunites them in a showdown decades in the making.... Gus Ramone is good police, a former Internal Affairs investigator now working homicide for the citys Violent Crime branch. His new case involves the death of a local teenager named Asa, whose body has been found in a community garden. The murder unearths intense memories of a case Ramone worked as a patrol cop 20 years earlier, when he and his partner, Dan Doc Holiday, assisted a legendary detective named T.C. Cook. The series of murders, all involving local teenage victims, was never solved. In the years since, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges. Cook has retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the Night Gardener killings. The new case draws the three men together, re-igniting the love, regret, and anger that once burned between them, and old ghosts walk once more as they try to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams."
I may have to fight my husband (an aspiring crime writer) for this one. Seems he's had Pelecanos on his TBR list for quite awhile. I think he thought I got this for him for Father's Day. So...if I play my cards right, we could have a guest reviewer for this one.
  • I'm waiting for at least 3 more I know are on the way, so I need to get cracking...

ARC received: American Lion

As you can see on the Waiting to Be Reviewed list in the sidebar, I received an Early Review copy of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by John Meacham. (Thank you LibraryThing!). I'm really anxious to get into this one because I'm participating in the LibraryThing "US Presidents" challenge to read at least one good biography of every American president before the next election. I wasn't really planning to start this challenge in earnest until I'd finished my other current 999 challenges, and I'd hoped to read them in order of their serving, but this has been so highly praised by everyone who's read it--and it won the Pulitzer Prize--that I'm jumping the queue and going to read this within the month. When I get an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) or ER book I try to read and review as soon as I can. I'm rarely disappointed, so look for this review to post sometime soon. Thanks also to Random House for making these copies available to LT. We really do enjoy being able to spread the word.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Review: Labor Day

What a powerful story! Pure fiction at its best! Several reviewers have been quoted as saying they could not put it down. I couldn't either. This is a book I can hardly wait to talk about with people who have read it, but don't want to spoil for those who are yet to have the fantastic experience of reading it for the first time. The main character Henry, 13 years old, lives with his hamster Jim and his mother Adele who is becoming more and more of a recluse. He visits with his father and step mother and their children once a week, but seems to accept his aloneness (and his mother's withdrawal from life)with a sort of "that's life" attitude. Into this life comes Frank, and once he appears on page 5, you will not be able to put this book down. Your heart will be in your throat, your pulse will race, your breathing will stop. Don't misunderstand, this is not a physic terror story, nor is it bloody or fantasy-like. It is simply a story of three people, each dealing with life issues, and how each reacts to events and circumstances, and interacts with the others over a six day period. Some things they have control over, some they do not. You can see several different possible endings coming, you don't know which one you want, and you don't want it to end badly. I think most people will find the ending acceptable. This is a story of growing up, a story of teen-age angst, a story of trust, a story of betrayal. But most of all it is a story of possibilities, realities, and dreams--life as we all experience it, but life as we hope we never have to. I'm sure his book will be on many book club discussion lists. I can't wait to see it in bookstores and libraries in August. It is going to be one of my "best of the year." So put in your reservations, and mark time on your calendar.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: Losing Mum and Pup

Talk about a chip off the verbal block..."Christo" Buckley's loving tale of the last days of his parents' lives could have been very maudlin and self-serving. It's not. It's a delightful, upbeat, celebration of his life with two fascinating, educated, acerbic, entertaining, and loving parents. While lovingly portrayed, the parents are shown with all their warts (is this where we get the expression "turning over in their graves"?) and all their virtues. Mum and Pup (whom he refers to as "WFB") died within 10 months of each other. The story of how an only child copes with both these lingering deaths while he lives several 100 miles away, is a true lesson in unselfishness. Having to plan memorial services for national personages who happened to be parents required the logistical aptitude of an Army quartermaster combined with a society maven, all the while holding personal grief at arms length. He commented that he felt at times like planning a wedding would have been easier. An aside: I think Christopher Buckley's wife Lucy, who is given occasional mention, probably deserves more credit than she receives for her husband's being able to get through these experiences. The book is not all funeral planning however. Buckley manages to weave in wonderful delightful vignettes of sailing across both the Atlantic and Pacific with his father, 'buying' lobsters from pots in Penobscot Bay Maine (up here we call it 'stealing') paying for them by leaving bottles of whiskey in the traps as he returned them to the water's depths. Stories of verbal sparring, drug battles, his mother's fashion sense, the son's agnosticism (remember Dad is arch conservative William F. Buckley Jr.- a pre-Vatican II catholic living in a post Vatican II world) and the ultimate discussions of funeral plans, are often uproariously funny. It did bring a smile to my face as the family was deciding what to place in the coffin with WFB. My family had that same discussion a couple years ago, and now we can all laugh about burying Dad with the TV remote. It seemed so much more at home in his hands than the rosary. This is a well-written memoir, well-narrated by the author himself, (I got an ARC audio from the publisher) and for anyone who has buried a parent or is facing it in the future, it is a big warm fuzzy read. Final comment....I would read this book again and again if for no other reason than the glorious use of the English language. He is his father's son. The words are a joy to anyone who values correct grammar paired with extravagant phraseology.

Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Now I know why I was not an English major. This book took me three tries and a lot of effort to finish. It was so interesting in parts, when she talked about the hopes and dreams of the women who met with her during the original "Iranian Revolution' in the 1980's, (and watching this week's events on TV made it very relevant) but it was soooooooo boring to me, when she'd go into vast amounts of detailed dissertations about the authors they were studying. I wanted to shout "I get it...life is like fiction. I don't need to hear your doctoral thesis applied to EVERY SINGLE BOOK they read over the years." When I read this the first time, I gave up about 1/3 thru, thinking I needed to read Lolita to understand thisbook. But I now realize that wasn't the problem. There was just simply Too Much Information for this math major's brain to absorb. It wasn't that I didn't understand it, I just wasn't interested. I kept hoping it would get better but it didn't. I'm sure there are many of you out there who loved this book, and I'm very happy for you. Just not my cup of tea, so it's on to something else.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Favorites from the Past: Shogun

Building on the My Favorite Reads theme over At Home with Books, I'm 'borrowing' her logo, and making this a Friday Favorites column every week. This week's showcased book from the past is Shogun by James Clavell. I was living in Japan when I read this, so the rich panapoly of scenery, history, and culture was quite vivid to me. I loved being able to learn more about the history and culture of that exotic country, and remember asking all my Japanese friends about various customs, foods, and locations. It's the story of John Blackthorne, a European sea captain, who ends up in Japan during the era of the Shoguns. I don't remember many details (it's been over 20 years since I read it) but I do remember that it was historically accurate, and that Clavell did a magnificent job bringing that history to a fictional setting. It is a dense read (particularly at the beginning and especially if you're not familiar with Japan) but one that was well worth it. I suspect most Americans over the age of 40 have seen the movie (or was it a mini-series?) starring Richard Chamberlain. We waited anxiously for Armed Forces TV to show it overseas so we could compare the book to the film. I'm partial to the book, but on the other hand, who doesn't like Richard Chamberlain? If you want a good summer read, with rich characters, an exciting plot with lots of action, incredible scenery, and a history lesson on top, go find a copy of this one. I'm going to have to find time to re-read it myself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Iced Tea anyone?

Now that the sky is blue, the sun is out, and the temperature is approaching 70 (hey--it's Maine!), it's time to think about blueberry sun tea, homegrown tomatoes, the Lobster, Blueberry, and Potato Festivals, and some summer reading. There have been numerous posts about "the" summer reading list, and I've been compiling my own, but this morning, I happened upon a great idea over at The Savvy Reader. Reading short stories for the summer! One of my 999 challenge categories this year has included short stories, a format I'd neglected for years. The collections I've read so far this year have convinced me not to stay away for so long again. In fact, several of those on Savvy's list are going right onto mine. Incidentally, I get some of my best reading ideas from other people's lists. And yes, thanks for asking, my summer list is essentially those books appearing in the On Deck widget in the sidebar.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

Being a 'traditionally built' woman myself, I've always loved Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Precious Ramotswe of 1st Ladies Detective Agency fame. This 10th book in the series is as gentle and delightful a read as the previous ones. In this episode, Mma R's little white van finally bites the dust, and she is in mourning. Her side-kick Grace Makutsi is busy keeping her fiance Mr. Phuti Radiphuti out of the evil clutches of her nemesis from the Botswana Secretarial College, Violet Sephotho. In the meantime, the agency is hired by Mr. Molofololo, the owner of a local football team, to look into why his team has been losing. Is, as he suspects, one of the players sabotaging the games? Neither Precious nor Grace knows a thing about 'football' (soccer) and it takes the help of Mma Ramotswe's foster son Puso to get the answer. This series is one of my all time favorites. On the surface, it's hard to say why. It certainly is not in the same league of other 'mysteries' or detective stories, but the grace, gentleness, courtesy, and pleasant good writing guarantees that when I pick one up and read it, I will put the book down feeling good about human beings. In addition, McCall Smith's wonderful introduction and explanation of the customs, traditions and culture of Botswana are truly enlightening for someone who has never been there. If you are lucky enough to get it in audio, the cadence of Lisette Lecat's readings adds even more richness. These books were made to be heard, not just read. Since Precious is still searching for her white van, an 11th book looks like a good bet.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Winners!

The giveaway winners for a copy of Obama's Blackberry have been drawn. I will notify you by email to get mailing information to give to Hachette. If I don't hear from you by Thursday, I'll draw another winner. Congratulations to Tea (Living Life and Reading Books) Storeetllr (The Anything Blog) Kim (The Book Butterfly) Kalea_Kane (Enroute to Life) and Etirv You'll be hearing from me by email.... Edited at 1:24 pm: One of our winners already won at another site, so (Gohome2mom) is our next up winner.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reviews: Mystery Read-A-Thon Recap

Today's Mystery read-a-thon was lots of fun. I managed to complete two books, Michael Connelly's Scarecrow and On What Grounds, the first of the coffeehouse series by Cleo Coyle. I'm half-way thru a third one, the Mint Julep Murders by Carolyn Hart. I'll finish that one tomorrow. I'd never read anything by Michael Connelly before, but that hole in my reading is going to be filled sooner rather than later. The Scarecrow had me on the edge of my chair throughout. As is probably apparent, I am a heavy internet user, and this story about bad people's ability to track, and manipulate data in the virtual world is as scary as anything Stephen King ever wrote. He almost had me pulling the plug on my laptop. It is stunningly plotted, with wonderful characters, and lots of action. A really good read. My sister pointed out the coffeehouse series to me. I am more addicted to coffee than I am to reading, if that is believable. So I really enjoyed meeting the heroine Clare Cosi, her ex-mother in law, and several other fun characters in this opening round of what promises to be a coffee loving clone of Goldi in Diane Mott Davidson's books, or Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson. I love them all but I'm not sure I could handle a steady diet of any of them (pardon the culinary pun.) They're all just fun reads to have around when you're in the mood for something delicious, interesting, but not too taxing. Notice I didn't say 'not too fattening' because they're all worth it just for the recipes. Finally, I'm already a fan of Carolyn Hart's Death of Demand series, but haven't read any in almost a year. Our heroine Annie Darling is embroiled again in another murder. Can't wait to see who dunnit. It was great fun to sit back today and read and listen (I did Scarecrow in audio while I kept my eye on the Red Sox and then grilled outside on a glorious Maine early summer Sunday.) I'm not sure I'm reading for another 12 hour marathon in the near future, but all the books were enjoyable, and it was a great excuse to bury my nose in them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Review: Rule Number Two

Subtitled Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital, the lessons and rules are from an episode of M.A.S.H: There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can't change rule number one.
This is the well written story of a young female Navy clinical psychologist who is sent to a field Marine surgical unit (think MASH) in Fallugah Iraq in Feb 2004 during some of the fiercest fighting of the war. She left behind her 15 mo old twins in the care of her parents and her husband (a Marine pilot). It's an incredibly honest, compassionate, compelling, and heartwrenching story of her tour of duty and the heroes she counts herself privileged to serve. I count her as one of the heroes. Stories of her days in Iraq are interwoven with 'email' from home, making it as gut-wrenching for the reader as it must have been her to serve. The book is not long, not technical and 'easy' to read on the one hand--the prose is sharp and clear. However, it is difficult to read about a young parent separated from her family, enduring incredible hardships, who is still able to help those Marines both younger and older than herself not only to endure and function, but survive the carnage with some humanity. With people like Heidi Kraft taking care of us, we will remain a strong country. It's one of my best of the year.

Review: The Link

This is the hot off the presses book about IDA, the 47 million year old, incredibly preserved Eocene era fossil discovered in the Messil pit in Germany in the early 1980s. An amateur paleontologist discovers and lovingly preserves what is today the most complete primate fossil ever found. Little Brown, the publishers, a division of Hachete Book Group, had quite a coming out party for this book and this fossil on May 19, 2009 to great fanfare. I got an ARC last week, and finished it today. I don't pretend to understand everything in it. I'm pretty educated and don't have a lot of trouble with scientific concepts, but this one could be the text for graduate level paleontology. The first two or three chapters were fine, setting the stage and drawing the reader to want to learn more about IDA, but then things started progressing to the MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over!) stage. There are over 100 pages of scientific facts about various ages/era, animal species, who's descended from whom and how do we know what we know. The final two chapters told me everything I really needed to know. While well written for a scientific audience, this book is going to be way past appealing to the public, except..............the pictures are fantastic. Probably because the fossil is fantastic, and the work the scientific team has done so far is well documented and portrayed in x-rays, CT scans, etc. This fossil is so well preserved that even the stomach contents of her last meal are still there and able to be analyzed. It's really interesting and I'm glad I read it, but I won't be running back to read it again. I suspect this early research will form the basis of many more papers, books, and theories in the future. So stand by. And for you lucky people in Oslo, where IDA is going to live, be sure to go see her in the museu

Friday, June 5, 2009

From the Past: My Favorite Reads

Gwendolyn B over at A Sea of Books introduced me today to a new feature she got from Alyce of At home with Books. I liked it so much I've decided this is one periodic feature I can handle. I spend a good part of my day in an office/library at home surround by over 1000 books. Often I look up and see one I've read and think "Wow, that was such a great read, I wish I had time to read it again." However, there are also hundreds waiting to be read for the first time. So here, I'll just mention periodically "good reads" from the past. I hope you find them inspiring. This weeks' favorite is R.L. Delderfield's God is an Englishman. I remember reading the entire series (this was the first) several times, enjoying them so much that one year for Christmas I told my husband to scour the used book venues so I could have copies of them all in my personal library. It's now been at least 5 years since I read any of them, but as I remember, the story is set in the Victorian England, as the Industrial Revolution is going strong, the railroads are beginning to change the face of rural England and Adam Swain, the main character sets out to form a dynasty (with the help of his wife Henrietta) in the shipping business by recognizing the advantages of horse drawn wagons in areas where the railroads just aren't available. This sounds dull and boring, but it's not. There are incredible descriptions of all parts of England, well-developed and memorable characters, and several sub-plots running along. I remember being able to sink into this book: there is romance, history, sociological discussion, war stories (from the Crimea, and later in the series, WWI), mystery, villains, and real life disasters. I must find time to stroll through this one again before the year is out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Review: Mistress of the Art of Death

This book is the Summer 2009 Highly Rated Book Group online discussion over on LT. I can't believe I missed it when it first came out in 2007. This is going to be one of my top 5 of the year. It is so good, that I galloped ahead and stayed up 1/2 the night to finish listening to the audio, which is masterfully done by Rosalyn Landor. I could hear the medieval street noise, smell the river, and see the mists. If you like historical fiction, forensic pathology suspense thrillers, medieval pageantry, romance, and intricate plots, this is the book for you. The characters are unforgettable and the story is many layered:
  1. Young children are disappearing from the town of Cambridge, and turning up later as skeletons showing evidence of unspeakable torture and death.
  2. In England at that time, money lending was illegal. Only Jews were allowed to lend money, so they were tolerated. However the Jews were accused of killing the children.
  3. Henry II, needing the Jews to keep his country solvent (no bishop could build a cathedral, no knight embark on a Crusade without borrowing) orders the entire Jewish population of the town into sanctuary within the castle walls. Still the killings continue.
  4. At this same time, the town of Salerno in Italy is turning out trained forensic scientists and doctors. Henry sends to his friend the King of Sicily for a "Doctor of Death" to solve the mystery of who is killing the children.
  5. Sicily sends its most noted Doctor of Death,Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, perhaps not realizing that in England, women who 'practice medicine' are more often seen as witches. Adelia is accompanied by Simon the Jew of Naples, and Mansur, a Saracen eunoch who acts as a bodyguard....a sort of medieval CSI team.
Those are just a few of the layers. Add in a Prior with a bad prostrate, an Abbess with a lousy attitude and even worse abbey management skills, an adorable child right out of Dickens, some rather rude and nasty knights, a delightful eelmonger/housekeeper and her helpers Mathilde A and Mathilde B, and you have the beginnings of a wonderful bubbling cauldron of a story. And let's not forget the dog named Safeguard....her description is so great, I can almost smell him myself. All the ingredients blend into an absolute page-turner. Just when you think it's solved, something else twists and you're off on another rollercoaster of emotion, and terror. In spite of the horror of the subject, Franklin manages to inject spots of humor that leave you chuckling with glee. The scene where she catherizes the poor Prior is worth the price of the book. The humanity and compassion displayed by all members of the team bode well for future books in the series. These are people you want to get to know. This is a woman you can root for. This is the first of what is promised to be a series about this wonderful female forensic pathologist. I've already ordered the next in the series: The Serpent's Tale.